Every once in a while I read a news item that leaves me in a state of semi-shock and, let’s face it, that is a pretty high bar given the messed-up world we live in. This weekend, I spent a bit of time catching up on current affairs (as one does on a lazy Sunday morning) and I happened upon an ABC article informing that Kim Jong-un has revealed to the world that North Korea has basically solved human health. Yes folks, you may have heard that the “Supreme Leader” has announced that the People’s Scientists have created a miracle drug called Kumdang-2.
According to the official web site:
Kumdang-2 is a “herbal medicine extracted from Kaesong Koryo insam (ginseng) cultivated in Kaesong DPR Korea by applying rare-earth molecular fertilizer. It contains insam saccharides, light rare earth elements, and micro-quantities of gold and platinum.”
Wow! Crazy … I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think ginseng is excellent stuff and like most hot-blooded males, I’ve gone through the “Goldschlager Phase” in my youth as well. It would therefore be intensely hypocritical of me to suggest to you, Dear Reader* that I am not intuitively attracted to the concept of this product, especially if it comes in a handsome green bottle.
This afternoon I was having a beautiful walk along a magnificent golden beach on the Mornington Peninsula, and I was idly pondering the above product description when two spurious collections of thoughts popped into my head. The first brain spasm was basically hey, this isn’t actually so stupid. Truly. For example, a very useful chunk of our anti-cancer pharmacopoeia comes from plants. We all know ginseng has been used by oriental cultures for thousands of years as a potent medicinal ingredient. But even our western medicine is not so far off the concept of Kumdang-2. We got vinca alkaloids like vincristine from the Madagascar periwinkle plant, aspirin from willow bark and taxanes such as docitaxel were originally extracted from yew trees. Even sexy, super-modern drugs like Roche’s Kadcyla uses an antibody conjugated to a mertansine cytotoxin that is a synthetic derivative of the Ethiopian maytenus ovatus.
As for the sacchirides, that’s not so dumb either. We’ve known for a couple of decades that certain polysaccharide configurations can be very immunogenic, and so in terms of the claims regarding the anti-viral / immunomodulatory aspects of Kumdang-2, there is clearly scientific relevance to this part of the “formula”. Moreover, the addition of platinum has me completely sold. Platinum complexes (e.g. Cisplatin) are very useful in treating aggressive forms of cancer. So really, add up all the pieces and the story makes about as much sense as any other tall story being peddled by a new biopharma company, right? I mean, if I am brutally honest with you, this cocktail sounds a bit like Regeneus’ RGSH4K.
So to summarise, my first thought (or let’s say, first “jumble” of thoughts) was maybe this isn’t so stupid after all and we are all just being a bit hasty.
Of course, to quell your aghast response to my ad-hoc analysis, I don’t for a minute believe the outrageous claims of Kumdang-2. But any marketing guru will tell you that if you want to sell complete bullshit, make sure it at least stinks a bit like the truth. By the way, that’s precisely how the North Korean propaganda engine works – it is the ultimate spin machine because it sells people incredibly tough “products and services” like oppression, poverty, excessive human rights abuse and bad haircuts by convincing everyone that the west is gluttonous and diabetic (true), computers cause excessive masturbation (often true) and that any association with the Kardashians can result in spontaneous gender transformation (also a distinct possibility).
Do you see how it works?
Though I am quite certain that an abundance of crystal meth also helps. Who says North Korea doesn’t have a vibrant pharmaceutical industry…
But as I started thinking more about the nexus between truth and bullshit when selling a new pharmaceutical product, I had a horrific and chilling epiphany. It was so shocking and so disturbing, I that I proceeded to walk, trance-like, directly into a small gum tree. And then it hit me with startling clarity, along with the whip-like fronds of a eucalyptus … Kim Jong-un is conspiring to become part of the ASX-listed biopharma community...
In fact, he may already be living in Perth.
Let me share with you my evidence.
Ever since June 2013, we have known that Anteo Technologies (ASX : ADO) has been working with a “large global healthcare company” on “PoC-1”. We never knew who that company was, we just knew it was a top-secret, hush hush project that had to do with some kind of cutting-edge healthcare application. ADO has always been reluctant to acknowledge who the sponsor of the project is, because when you think about it, it’s not very politically correct (or legal) to announce a scientific collaboration with North Korea. Obviously in retrospect, it is clear that PoC-1 is a key component of the product release assays used by the Supreme Leader’s cadre of molecular biologists to develop and validate Kumdang-1, predecessor to Kumdang-2. I’m also reliably told that Geoff Cumming is a “winker” (for all my Kiwi bretheren reading, I said winker, not wanker), and it is my understanding that phototoxicity and light sensitivity is a common side-effect of meth consumption.
So that could also potentially back up that particular theory, don’t you think?
But it doesn’t stop there. Obviously, if the North Koreans are out selling Kumdang-2, then there must have been a Kumdang-1. Now, that shouldn’t really surprise anyone, after all plenty of drugs have a dry run before the real thing. Take for example, Novogen (ASX : NRT), who’s first generation of drugs were incredibly toxic and killed everything including, but not limited to, the cancer cells in the petri dish. Neuren (ASX : NEU) is working with a second-generation compound as is Prana (ASX : PBD). Frankly, when my whirring brain started correlating ASX-listed companies that had a crappy first drug and are now developing a crappy second-generation drug, my mental algorithms converged on Prana.
Doesn’t Kumdang-2 sound an AWFUL lot like an MPAC???!!!!
Yes it does – metal complexes and all that … er… stuff.
Then a further look at the Kumdang-2 website made me even more suspicious. For example, it looks startlingly like Cynata’s (ASX : CYP) web site, except minus the Flash plug-ins. I’m not sure who ripped-off who – lots of dudes in clean room garmets, an excess of hair nets and plenty of shiny lab hardware like pipettes and microscopes being flaunted about. A pure coincidence? You decide. Then if you read the home page footer (screen grab below) there is plenty of familiar information that is boringly typical of an ASX-listed company. For example, just like Viralytics (ASX:VLA) there is a gratuitous list of patents, something that is truly unique to Australian biotech companies and emulated nowhere else in the world, except maybe North Korea. There is also an extensive description of the retrospective and powerful translational research decision-making based on thousands of patient’s opinions. Not patients, per se, but their opinions.
Who does that sound like? Well, Regeneus (ASX : RGS) of course! Am I right or am I right? I mean, this information could even suggest that the North Korean regime is collaborating with the AFL because that was also a recent example of where “opinions” apparently resulted in the creation of a clinically-validated product.
It’s just all too coincidental if you ask me. By the way, if it is true, I hope they are doing all their experiments on good old Collingwood football club.
Frankly, by this stage I was well-and-truly freaking out and started looking around to see if I was being followed. Had the Supreme Leader looked a bit like a distant Korean cousin of Martin Rogers or Roger Aston (collectively, the “Rogers”) then I really would have been paranoid, though this doesn’t seem to be the case. But what does it all mean?
Could it be that the North Koreans have infiltrated our life sciences industry?
Are Australian ASX-listed biotech companies just a front for North Korean biopharmaceutical development?
Does this explain why I can’t understand anything that Ross MacDonald says in a television interview because he is actually speaking Korean and not English?
When Phosphagenics (ASX : POH) says it will be doing more outsourcing, do they mean Kaesong Industrial Complex?
Will Admedus (ASX : AHZ) be distributing Kumdang-2 in Australia along with its other proprietary immunology products?
Oh my GOD, here is a thought … Could AHZ’s HSV-2 vaccine actually BE Kumdang-2?
But then I relaxed, because I saw the glorious truth. It made me feel warm and calm, a bit like urinating in a wetsuit while surfing in Tasmania. The truth is, no self-respecting Australian male, let alone the proud and fully paid-up CEO of an ASX-listed company would have anything to do with a product called Kumdang-2. Even my wife, for whom English is a second language (and being Eastern European, has absolutely no sense of humour whatsoever), pretty much thought that Kumdang-2 sounded like a brand of motorised dildo. If it ever got out on HotCopper that any of the usual dodgy suspects had done a licensing deal for a product called Kumdang-2, I am quite confident that it would be the end of the company.
Except for maybe Phosphagenics (ASX : POH) – that firm has the resilience of a cockroach in a Taepodong-2 strike (and if you don’t know what a Taepodong-2 is then you had better get up to speed on your North Korean technology platforms, especially if you are living in Subiaco).
Folks, all joking and mirth aside, the real message of this post is that while we mock and ridicule an absolutely farcical announcement like Kumdang-2, our biopharma landscape sometimes isn’t actually a whole lot more impeccable. We have a boat-load of good science in Australia, but we have an extraordinary amount of crap science too. We have entrepreneurs that make claims that are just as unfounded as those of the Supreme Leader, “history-making” announcements that have delivered very little to humanity so far. Frankly speaking, if people can be convinced to put their hard-earned money behind a company like Solagran (pine needle extract rather than ginseng extract … recently suspended from trading), then sadly Kumdang-2 isn’t actually a stretch of the imagination at all. Written up as a polished prospectus, it would probably fly here.
So, I guess when Kim Jong-un is ready for his back-door ASX listing, I will be happy to recommend the folks at Forrest Capital.
*not to be confused with “Dear Leader” but if you hold your tongue and say “Dear Leader” it sounds just about the same.